Targeting Overweight Workers With Wellness Programs Can Backfire

07.03.2014 - Workplace Issues

Employers say obesity is a top health concern for their workers. But health is a sensitive and personal issue. Some employees say these wellness initiatives can go too far.

For several years, Ryan Tax Services in Dallas has offered a wellness program to its 2,000-person staff. The program includes health fairs, free screenings, cooking demos and health club memberships. Nearly 70 percent of employees participate, and that's helped curb health care costs, according to the company.

Still, says Delta Emerson, executive vice president, "56 percent of the employees that tested are overweight, which was a little shocking to me because we have a very young population. The average age is in the high 30s."

Obesity can lead to medical complications like diabetes and heart disease, and can increase absenteeism and the risk of injury on the job. Helping overweight employees nudge the scale in the other direction might be good for their health and for the company's bottom line. But firms have to walk a fine line, Emerson says, in what they say to workers.

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Targeting Overweight Workers With Wellness Programs Can Backfire